Commentary  Missing the mark


While I absolutely believe in standing up for our smaller branch libraries in the face of austerity measures, the piece, “In defense of our Islamic Studies library” (February 16, Culture, page 19) misrepresents the goals of the Library’s Feasibility Study. While the project is absolutely exploring high-density storage options for collections, the goal is not to remove all books from our libraries in any way. This would not make sense for a unique, print-based, and largely non-English language collection like that of the Islamic Studies Library.

The study is largely being conducted because we are physically running out of space for collections, and many materials are being stored in less-than-optimal conditions such as the Currie Gym basement. In addition, our libraries currently provide seating space for only 11 per cent of our student population, while the North American minimum recommendation is around 25 per cent.

Financially, it costs approximately $4.80 per year to keep a single print book on a shelf due to continued facility, retrieval, and administrative expenses. In comparison, a book in high-density storage costs less than $1 per year. Thus, traditional open stacks are becoming unsustainable for a growing collection. This is a reality of research libraries across the country that have turned to high-density or off-site storage options.

While the use of print materials varies by discipline, general stats on print check-outs show a downward trend that cannot simply be explained by books being consulted in-branch or being more available online. One of the challenges of the study will be to balance the need for print browsing and fast retrieval with more efficient storage.

The Feasibility Study does not seek a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to budgetary and space restraints, but rather to create library spaces that better serve their varied users. This includes a desire to maintain and showcase our important print collections, such as that of the ISL, rather than to hide them away.

—Erin Sobat,  Library Improvement Fund Coordinator at SSMU